I’m praying that a scarlet Thread will tie together my thoughts with some encouragement for you today. What I hope to share is a simply beautiful redemptive story, woven through the Old and New Testaments, and I pray I can do it justice.
We begin in the book of Joshua, which describes the conquering of land by the Israelites immediately after emerging from their 40-year wilderness wandering. Moses by this time has died, and God has called Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. In order to do so, they first will have to conquer Jericho, a heavily-fortified city in the land of Canaan.
As the first step to accomplishing this goal, Joshua sends two spies to scout out the city of Jericho. “And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1). That, it seems, would be good cover, because (unfortunately) it might not be unusual for strangers passing through town to visit there. But the king of Jericho gets wind of this and sends his men to Rahab’s house so that she will turn over the spies to them. Rahab, instead, has hidden the spies up on the roof, and tells the king’s men that they have already left. So they depart the city, hoping to catch the spies. The city gates close as soon as the men have left.
After the pursuers depart the city, Rahab ascends to the spies on the roof and says to them, “… please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” (Joshua 2:12-14).
Rahab further helps the spies by letting them escape through an outwardly-facing window in the wall and giving them strategic instructions to help them safely flee the king’s men. The Israelite spies instruct her, “when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household” (Joshua 2:18). They promise her that they will not destroy her family when they destroy the city. “Then she sends them away, and they depart. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window” (Joshua 2:21).
Interesting, isn’t it, that the holy God of Israel includes a prostitute in the victory story of His people. Faithful to His promise, the LORD through Joshua commands that as the city of Jericho is demolished and all its inhabitants are destroyed, that “…only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.” (Joshua 6:17).
Now the people of Israel in general don’t even have known who Rahab is, because the only ones who interact with her are the spies. The spies promising to spare her at the time have no idea that they won’t be sent in immediately as an army to conquer, but rather, as silent marchers around the city wall for six days and marching shouters on the seventh day. They don’t really understand that sparing Rahab and her family isn’t even completely under their control. Instead, God, who loves Rahab and has a plan for her life, takes responsibility for sparing her by honoring the secret message of the scarlet cord hanging out of her window. We know she lives because Joshua 6:25 tells us so. “But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
One might think that a woman who is a prostitute, and not an Israelite, would just fade into obscurity in the Bible. After all, what can she possibly have to do with the redemptive work of Christ for 21st century believers?
I’m sitting here at my desk smiling and shaking my head at the way God doesn’t forget those whom He loves. Rahab not only doesn’t fade away, but the promise of her scarlet cord plays a large part in the bigger picture of God’s redemption plan.
When I was younger I skipped over all the genealogies in the Bible, didn’t you?
BOR-RING… But when we take a closer look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we see something that I think is amazing:
“…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king….” (Matthew 1:5-6).
Notice a few things with me; Rahab, a non-Israelite, becomes the wife of Salmon, an Israelite. Not only that, but in this passage her less-than-desirable label of prostitute is no longer attached to her name. Not only is her life spared, but she is redeemed from that life of shame. But wait! There’s more! Now, look carefully: right there in black and white we see that Rahab is King David’s great-great-grandmother! Talk about redeeming her past! Moreover, Rahab’s role and influence in the salvation of all mankind doesn’t even end there.
Fast forward to the book of Ruth, which tells a beautiful redemption story as well. At the outset, we learn that Ruth, a Moabite (non-Jewish) woman, is married to a man from Bethlehem in Judea, who is sojourning in Moab to escape famine. Are you with me so far? They’re living with her husband’s widowed mother, Naomi. Soon afterwards, Ruth’s husband and his brother die, leaving Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, to join Naomi as widows. It’s a desperate situation, because widows were wholly dependent on family to survive at that time. Having no family there, and learning that the famine in Bethlehem is ended, Naomi decides to return to her homeland of Bethlehem. She tries to send Ruth and Orpah on their separate ways, so Orpah agrees to return to her family. Ruth, however, refuses to leave Naomi’s side, saying, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17).
So Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, and Naomi encourages Ruth to glean barley from the grain growing in the field of Boaz, a relative of Naomi. To make a long story short, Boaz notices Ruth and takes steps to care for her after learning of her situation and of her love and loyalty to Naomi. Not only that, but Naomi encourages Ruth to speak to Boaz in what amounts to a proposal of marriage (!) informing him that he is their kinsman-redeemer. Now a kinsman-redeemer was usually the closest male family member of a widow, one who would provide financially (restoring family land so that it would not remain outside the family forever) and provide an heir for the dead male relative. In this case, Boaz isn’t the closest relative, but he is permitted to take the position of kinsman-redeemer anyway.
Boaz readily steps up to this position, and I can’t help but wonder if it is because he remembers his mother, Rahab’s story of redemption. He has to have known how she and her family were rescued when Jericho fell. It would have been an amazing story to pass down in the family! I can imagine his mother stressing the importance of protecting the vulnerable and urging him to care for others when it is within his power. It seems completely probable that Boaz sees Ruth’s situation as reminiscent of his own mother’s in a way, and so he carries that scarlet thread into his family line.
Looking further in Matthew chapter 1 at the genealogy of Jesus, we can discover something significant. Earlier we saw that Rahab was listed as King David’s great great-grandmother. Now notice this: "Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:5-6;16). Rahab’s son Boaz marries Ruth, and her son, Obed becomes the grandfather of King David, which makes Ruth the great-grandmother of King David! This is significant because technically, neither Rahab nor Ruth are Israelites. Not only that, but they’re women, who almost never make it into biblical genealogies. Clearly they are significant to God, who values all people!
During his reign King David unites the two nations of Israel and Judah, bringing redemption to the nation of Israel as part of God’s promise. Now I know I skipped several folks in the lineup, but notice that several generations later, Jesus is born into this family line, and He has brought redemption to the entire world!
The heart of God has always been toward redemption for people. People like Rahab, with a checkered past, people like Ruth, with an uncertain future, and people like you and me, with all our sins and faults and hangups and messes. The scarlet blood of Jesus at the cross will redeem anyone who is willing! Jesus is the scarlet Thread woven throughout the Bible in God’s perfect plan of redemption.
Winner, Winner: Last time I announced a giveaway, this great sticker from www.odgapparel.com
Out of the eligible entries, our winner is Barbara W! Congratulations, Barbara!! I'll contact you to get your sticker sent out to you this week. Thanks so much for sharing this blog as a way to encourage your friends, family, coworkers, and others.
You are so appreciated!